As in the midst of Christ’s greatest humiliations, there were proofs of his dignity, so in the midst of his greatest honours, he gave proofs of his humility; and when the mighty works he did gave him an opportunity of making a figure, yet he made it appear that he emptied himself, and made himself of no reputation. Here we have,
I. The cursed malice of the Pharisees against Christ (Matt. 12:14); being enraged at the convincing evidence of his miracles, they went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. That which vexed them was, not only that by his miracles his honour eclipsed theirs, but that the doctrine he preached was directly opposite to their pride, and hypocrisy, and worldly interest; but they pretended to be displeased at his breaking the sabbath day, which was by the law a capital crime, Exod. 35:2. Note, it is no new thing to see the vilest practices cloaked with the most specious pretences. Observe their policy; they took counsel about it, considered with themselves which way to do it effectually; they took counsel together in a close cabal about it, that they might both animate and assist one another. Observe their cruelty; they took counsel, not to imprison or banish him, but to destroy him, to be the death of him who came that we might have life. What an indignity was hereby put upon our Lord Jesus, to run him down as an outlaw (qui caput gerit lupinum—carries a wolf’s head), and the plague of his country, who was the greatest blessing of it, the Glory of his people Israel!
II. Christ’s absconding upon this occasion, and the privacy he chose, to decline, not his work, but his danger; because his hour was not yet come (Matt. 12:15), he withdrew himself from thence. He could have secured himself by miracle, but chose to do it in the ordinary way of flight and retirement; because in this, as in other things, he would submit to the sinless infirmities of our nature. Herein he humbled himself, that he was driven to the common shift of those who are most helpless; thus also he would give an example to his own rule, When they persecute you in one city, flee to another. Christ had said and done enough to convince those Pharisees, if reason or miracles would have done it; but instead of yielding to the conviction, they were hardened and enraged, and therefore he left them as incurable, Jer. 51:9.
Christ did not retire for his own ease, nor seek an excuse to leave off his work; no, his retirements were filled up with business, and he was even then doing good, when he was forced to flee for the same. Thus he gave an example to his ministers, to do what they can, when they cannot do what they would, and to continue teaching, even when they are removed into corners. When the Pharisees, the great dons and doctors of the nation, drove Christ from then, and forced him to withdraw himself, yet the common people crowded after him; great multitudes followed him and found him out. This some would turn to his reproach, and call him the ring-leader of the mob; but it was really his honour, that all who were unbiased and unprejudiced, and not blinded by the pomp of the world, were so hearty, so zealous for him, that they would follow him whithersoever he went, and whatever hazards they ran with him; as it was also the honour of his grace, that the poor were evangelized; that when they received him, he received them and healed them all. Christ came into the world to be a Physician-general, as the sun to the lower world, with healing under his wings. Though the Pharisees persecuted Christ for doing good, yet he went on in it, and did not let the people fare the worse for the wickedness of their rulers. Note, Though some are unkind to us, we must not on that account be unkind to others.
Christ studied to reconcile usefulness and privacy; he healed them all, and yet (Matt. 12:16), charged them that they should not make him known; which may be looked upon, 1. As an act of prudence; it was not so much the miracles themselves, as the public discourse concerning them, that enraged the Pharisees (Matt. 12:23, 24); therefore Christ, though he would not omit doing good, yet would do it with as little noise as possible, to avoid offence to them and peril to himself. Note, Wise and good men, though they covet to do good, yet are far from coveting to have it talked of when it is done; because it is God’s acceptance, not men’s applause, that they aim at. And in suffering times, though we must boldly go on in the way of duty, yet we must contrive the circumstances of it so as not to exasperate, more than is necessary, those who seek occasion against us; Be ye wise as serpents, Matt. 10:16. 2. It may be looked upon as an act of righteous judgment upon the Pharisees, who were unworthy to hear of any more of his miracles, having made so light of those they had seen. By shutting their eyes against the light, they had forfeited the benefit of it. 3. As an act of humility and self-denial. Though Christ’s intention in his miracles was to prove himself the Messiah, and so to bring men to believe on him, in order to which it was requisite that they should be known, yet sometimes he charged the people to conceal them, to set us an example of humility, and to teach us not to proclaim our own goodness or usefulness, or to desire to have it proclaimed. Christ would have his disciples to be the reverse of those who did all their works to be seen of men.
III. The fulfilling of the scriptures in all this, Matt. 12:17. Christ retired into privacy and obscurity, that though he was eclipsed, the word of God might be fulfilled, and so illustrated and glorified, which was the thing his heart was upon. The scripture here said to be fulfilled is Isa. 42:1-4, which is quoted at large, Matt. 12:18-21. The scope of it is to show how mild and quiet, and yet how successful, our Lord Jesus should be in his undertaking; instances of both which we have in the foregoing passages. Observe here,
1. The pleasure of the Father in Christ (Matt. 12:18); Behold, my Servant whom I have chosen, my Beloved in whom my soul is well pleased. Hence we may learn,
(1.) That our Saviour was God’s Servant in the great work of our redemption. He therein submitted himself to the Father’s will (Heb. 10:7), and set himself to serve the design of his grace and the interests of his glory, in repairing the breaches that had been made by man’s apostasy. As a Servant, he had a great work appointed him, and a great trust reposed in him. This was a part of his humiliation, that though he thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet that in the work of our salvation he took upon him the form of a servant, received a law, and came into bonds. Though he were a son, yet learned he this obedience, Heb. 5:8. The motto of this Prince is, Ich dien—I serve.
(2.) That Jesus Christ was chosen of God, as the only fit and proper person for the management of the great work of our redemption. He is my Servant whom I have chosen, as par negotio—equal to the undertaking. None but he was able to do the Redeemer’s work, or fit to wear the Redeemer’s crown. He was one chosen out of the people (Ps. 89:19), chosen by Infinite Wisdom to that post of service and honour, for which neither man nor angel was qualified; none but Christ, that he might in all things have the pre-eminence. Christ did not thrust himself upon this work, but was duly chosen into it; Christ was so God’s Chosen as to be the head of election, and of all other the Elect, for we are chosen in him, Eph. 1:4.
(3.) That Jesus Christ is God’s Beloved, his beloved Son; as God, he lay from eternity in his bosom (John 1:18); he was daily his delight, (Prov. 8:30). Between the Father and the Son there was before all time an eternal and inconceivable intercourse and interchanging of love, and thus the Lord possessed him in the beginning of his way, Prov. 8:22. As Mediator, the Father loved him; then when it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and he submitted to it, therefore did the Father love him, John 10:17.
(4.) That Jesus Christ is one in whom the Father is well pleased, in whom his soul is pleased; which denotes the highest complacency imaginable. God declared, by a voice from heaven, that he was his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased; well pleased in him, because he was the ready and cheerful Undertaker of that work of wonder which God’s heart was so much upon, and he is well pleased with us in him; for he had made us accepted in the Beloved, Eph. 1:6. All the interest which fallen man has or can have in God is grounded upon and owing to God’s well-pleasedness in Jesus Christ; for there is no coming to the Father but by him, John 14:6.
2. The promise of the Father to him in two things.
(1.) That he should be every way well qualified for his undertaking; I will put my Spirit upon him, as a Spirit of wisdom and counsel, Isa. 11:2, 3. Those whom God calls to any service, he will be sure to fit and qualify for it; and by that it will appear that he called them to it, as Moses, Exod. 4:12. Christ, as God, was equal in power and glory with the Father; as Mediator, he received from the Father power and glory, and received that he might give: and all that the Father gave him, to qualify him for his undertaking, was summed up in this, he put his Spirit upon him: this was that oil of gladness with which he was anointed above his fellows, Heb. 1:9. He received the Spirit, not by measure, but without measure, John 3:34. Note, Whoever they be that God has chosen, and in whim he is well pleased, he will be sure to put his Spirit upon them. Wherever he confers his love, he confers somewhat of his likeness.
(2.) That he should be abundantly successful in his understanding. Those whom God sends he will certainly own. It was long since secured by promise to our Lord Jesus, that the good pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his hand, Isa. 53:10. And here we have an account of that prospering good pleasure.
[1.] He shall show judgment to the Gentiles. Christ in his own person preached to those who bordered upon the heathen nations (see Mark 3:6-8), and by his apostle showed his gospel, called here his judgment, to the Gentile world. The way and method of salvation, the judgment which is committed to the Son, is not only wrought out by him as our great High Priest, but showed and published by him as our great Prophet. The gospel, as it is a rule of practice and conversation, which has a direct tendency to the reforming and bettering of men’s hearts and lives, shall be showed to the Gentiles. God’s judgments had been the Jews’ peculiar (Ps. 147:19), but it was often foretold, by the Old-Testament prophets, that they should be showed to the Gentiles, which therefore ought not to have been such a surprise as it was to the unbelieving Jews, much less a vexation.
[2.] In his name shall the Gentiles trust, Matt. 12:21. He shall so show judgment to them, that they shall heed and observe what he shows them, and be influenced by it to depend upon him, to devote themselves to him, and conform to that judgment. Note, The great design of the gospel, is to bring people to trust in the name of Jesus Christ; his name Jesus, a Saviour, that precious name whereby he is called, and which is as ointment poured forth; The Lord our Righteousness. The evangelist here follows the Septuagint (or perhaps the latter editions of the Septuagint follow the evangelist); the Hebrew (Isa. 42:4) is, The isles shall wait for his law. The isles of the Gentiles are spoken of (Gen. 10:5), as peopled by the sons of Japhet, of whom it was said (Gen. 9:27), God shall persuade Japhet to dwell in the tents of Shem; which was now to be fulfilled, when the isles (says the prophet), the Gentiles (says the evangelist), shall wait for his law, and trust in his name: compare these together, and observe, that they, and they only, can with confidence trust in Christ’s name, that wait for his law with a resolution to be ruled by it. Observe also, that the law we wait for is the law of faith, the law of trusting in his name. This is now his great commandment, that we believe in Christ, 1 John 3:23.
3. The prediction concerning him, and his mild and quiet management of his undertaking, Matt. 12:19, 20. It is chiefly for the sake of this that it is here quoted, upon occasion of Christ’s affected privacy and concealment.
(1.) That he should carry on his undertaking without noise or ostentation. He shall not strive, or make an outcry. Christ and his kingdom come not with observation, Luke 17:20, 21. When the First-begotten was brought into the world, it was not with state and ceremony; he made no public entry, had no harbingers to proclaim him King. He was in the world and the world knew him not. Those were mistaken who fed themselves with hopes of a pompous Saviour. His voice was not heard in the streets; “Lo, here is Christ;” or, “Lo, he is there:” he spake in a still small voice, which was alluring to all, but terrifying to none; he did not affect to make a noise, but came down silently like the dew. What he spake and did was with the greatest possible humility and self-denial. His kingdom was spiritual, and therefore not to be advanced by force or violence, or by high pretensions. No, the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
(2.) That he should carry on his undertaking without severity and rigour (Matt. 12:20). A bruised reed shall he not break. Some understand this of his patience in bearing with the wicked; he could as easily have broken these Pharisees as a bruised reed, and have quenched them as soon as smoking flax; but he will not do it till the judgment-day, when all his enemies shall be made his footstool. Others rather understand it of his power and grace in bearing up the weak. In general, the design of his gospel is to establish such a method of salvation as encourages sincerity, though there be much infirmity; it does not insist upon a sinless obedience, but accepts an upright, willing mind. As to particular persons, that follow Christ in meekness, and in fear, and in much trembling, observe, [1.] How their case is here described—they are like a bruised reed, and smoking flax. Young beginners in religion are weak as a bruised reed, and their weakness offensive like smoking flax; some little life they have, but it is like that of a bruised reed; some little heat, but like that of smoking flax. Christ’s disciples were as yet but weak, and many are so that have a place in his family. The grace and goodness in them are as a bruised reed, the corruption and badness in them are as smoking flax, as the wick of a candle when it is put out and is yet smoking. [2.] What is the compassion of our Lord Jesus toward them? He will not discourage them, much less reject them or cast them off; the reed that is bruised shall not be broken and trodden down, but shall be supported, and made as strong as a cedar or flourishing palm-tree. The candle newly lighted, though it only smokes and does not flame, shall not be blown out, but blown up. The day of small things is the day of precious things, and therefore he will not despise it, but make it the day of great things, Zech. 4:10. Note, Our Lord Jesus deals very tenderly with those who have true grace, though they be weak in it, Isa. 40:11; Heb. 5:2. He remembers not only that we are dust, but that we are flesh. [3.] The good issue and success of this, intimated in that, till he send forth judgment unto victory. That judgment which he showed to the Gentiles shall be victorious, he will go on conquering and to conquer, Rev. 6:2. Both the preaching of the gospel in the world, and the power of the gospel in the heart, shall prevail. Grace shall get the upper hand of corruption, and shall at length be perfected in glory. Christ’s judgment will be brought forth to victory, for when he judges he will overcome. He shall bring forth judgment unto truth; so it is, Isa. 42:3. Truth and victory are much the same, for great is the truth, and will prevail.